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Coronavirus Today: A new impending health crisis

Good evening. I’m Faith E. Pinho, and it’s Thursday, Sept. 3. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

First came the coronavirus. Then, Americans experienced a second outbreak.

In the U.S., signs of depression have tripled since the COVD-19 pandemic took off in March, according to a new study. Some people who had never experienced mental illness before are grappling with symptoms now, while others who have struggled with depression in the past are dealing with more severe bouts. The report, published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Network Open, adds to earlier work showing rates of anxiety and depression worsening in the coronavirus era.

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Researchers from Boston University collected mental health assessments during the first two weeks of April and compared them to interview data from a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017 and 2018. No matter how you measure it, depression symptoms are more widespread now than before the pandemic.

One of the largest increases was in younger adults aged 18 to 39 — 38.8% of them experienced at least one symptom of depression in 2020, compared to 9% in the previous years. For Americans aged 40 to 59, the prevalence jumped from 8.5% to 26.8%, and in those 60 and above it rose from 7.9% to 14.9%. The percentage of men who reported at least one symptom of depression increased from 6.9% to 21.9%; for women, the number went from 10.1% to 33.3%.

Additionally, the prevalence of “moderate” and “severe” symptoms of depression has surged, with the latter being 7.5 times higher now than in earlier years. The researchers also found that people with more COVID-19-related stressors — such as losing a job as a result of the pandemic or losing a loved one to the disease — were more likely to experience signs of depression too.

“These findings serve to alert our attention to yet another impending public health crisis as a result of this pandemic — the increase in cases of major depression,” said Dr. Ruth Shim, an expert on cultural psychology at UC Davis.

The results, while troubling, aren’t completely surprising, since mental health often suffers after traumatic events. During the Ebola epidemic in 2015, for instance, nearly half of the residents of Sierra Leone experienced at least one sign of anxiety or depression, and more than three-quarters had at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness during the pandemic, read on to find resources that can help.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 6:42 p.m. PDT:

More than 726,000 confirmed cases and more than 13,400 deaths.
(Los Angeles Times Graphics)

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Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

See the current status of California’s reopening, county by county, with our tracker.

A map of California showing counties by which tier they're in under the state's system of coronavirus reopening rules.
The tiers to which California counties are assigned based on coronavirus risk level. These determine what can reopen.

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Across California

With another heatwave expected to bake Southern California this Labor Day weekend, all drive-through coronavirus testing centers operated by the city of Los Angeles will close for the long weekend. A few pop-up testing events will be held, however. All state-operated and some county-run testing centers will close for the holiday Monday.

L.A. County schools can reopen to the neediest students for in-person classes in less than two weeks, if their schools follow reopening protocols. New guidelines let students with disabilities, English language learners and others needing specialized instruction come back to their classrooms in small groups of no more than 12 children and two supervisors. The reopening, which can begin as soon as Sept. 14, targets some of the most vulnerable students who have struggled to make progress with distance learning.

About 8,000 of San Diego State University’s 35,485 students returned to campus for labs and other classes deemed too difficult to conduct virtually. But just nine days in, the university is putting a “pause” on in-person learning because 64 people on campus have tested positive for the coronavirus. All courses will be taught online for the next four weeks, and on-campus workouts for student athletes are on hold for two weeks. SDSU officials want to see if more infections will appear, possibly driving up the county’s overall case count enough to threaten its reopening status.

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With the summer coming to its unofficial end, Southern Californians can prepare for a string of unusual holidays. There’ll be no haunted houses at Knott’s Berry Farm or the Queen Mary this Halloween. Forget Zoolights at Christmas and the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. Organizers have decided these time-honored celebrations aren’t worth the risks posed by crowds while the coronavirus is still spreading at will. Traditions that do continue, like Dana Point’s popular winter boat parade, will look different — and there won’t be any sitting on Santa’s lap.

Resources

— For general safety, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (here’s a super-fun how-to video). Stop touching your face, and keep your phone clean. Practice social distancing, maintaining a six-foot radius of personal space in public. And wear a mask if you leave home. Here’s how to do it right.
— Watch for symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going there.
— Need a COVID-19 test? Here’s how to receive a free test if you’re in L.A. County. And here’s a map of testing sites across California.
— Here’s how to care for someone with COVID-19, from monitoring their symptoms to preventing the virus’ spread.
— If your job has been affected by the pandemic, here’s how to file for unemployment.
— Here are some free resources for restaurant workers and entertainment industry professionals having trouble making ends meet.
— Advice for helping kids navigate pandemic life includes being honest about uncertainties, acknowledging their feelings and sticking to a routine. Here’s guidance from the CDC.
— In need of mental health services? Here are resources for coping during the crisis from the CDC and the L.A. County Department of Mental Health. L.A. County residents can also call (800) 854-7771 or text “LA” to 741741.
— For domestic violence victims, the pandemic can pose a “worst-case scenario,” advocates say. If you or someone you know is experiencing such abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or L.A. County’s hotline at 1-800-978-3600. Here are more ways to get help.

Around the nation and the world

Dozens of major hospitals are considering whether to ignore a recent decision by the Food and Drug Administration to allow broader access to a promising antibody treatment. So-called convalescent plasma therapy is based on the century-old idea that antibodies generated by people who have recovered from a disease can be transfused into patients whose immune systems need a boost. The therapy is being tested in nationwide clinical trials, but the FDA action complicates efforts to recruit volunteers. “On a couple of occasions, we’ve allowed clinical practice to get ahead of the science,” said one researcher involved in a plasma trial. “We’ve learned that lesson a couple of times now.”

“The Batman” was one of the biggest Hollywood productions to get back to filming since the industry shut down in March. Now filming has been shut down after star Robert Pattinson tested positive for the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the release of “Tenet,” the first big blockbuster movie to hit the big screen nationwide since the pandemic began, offers the first major test of American appetites for movie-going. Movie theaters remain closed in Los Angeles County and most of California (although San Diego can reopen them this week), but most of the rest of the country has reopened them at least partially. Warner Bros. chief Ann Sarnoff, whose studio is behind both films, talked with The Times about production and the box office.

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Mexico holds the record for the highest number of coronavirus deaths among its health workers, according to a new report from Amnesty International. The nonprofit group says 1,320 doctors, nurses and other healthcare employees have died so far, surpassing the U.S., Britain and Brazil. About 100,000 Mexican health workers have tested positive for the virus, accounting for 17% of all cases throughout the country. The Mexican government says it has provided adequate protective gear to medical professionals, but they dispute that. And though officials said everybody in healthcare has been tested once, Mexico’s overall testing rates remain low.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know: When will local libraries reopen?

Libraries statewide are now permitted by the state to reopen with restrictions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean library systems have reopened in-person services. You can check the state’s restrictions on libraries in your county here.

In Los Angeles, it’s unclear when we’ll be able to wander among the shelves in search of the next perfect book, since both the county and city public library systems remain closed. However, both are letting borrowers place holds on materials for curbside pickup at select branch locations. Read about the L.A. Public Library’s system here and the L.A. County Library’s here.

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The L.A. County Library is now offering digital services too — lending laptops and mobile wireless internet service and providing free printing. The new services are intended to address technological woes for people who don’t have printers, computers or Wi-Fi access at home.

To use its printing services, upload up to 10 pages you want to print from your computer, tablet or mobile device, then call one of the more than three dozen sidewalk service locations to arrange for pickup.

The new pilot laptop lending program at 10 branch locations will allow adults with library cards to check out laptops and Wi-Fi hot spots. Like books, loans will last three weeks with options to renew, and they can be reserved by phone or online.

Our reporters covering the coronavirus outbreak want to hear from you. Email us your questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them. You can find more answers in our Frequently Asked Questions roundup and in our reopening tracker.

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For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times over the weekend, visit our homepage and our Health section, sign up for our breaking news alerts, and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.


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